Yesterday was MOD-Day: the release day for Machine of Death, a collaboration among several popular webcomic artist/writers and their fans. The idea started with a Dinosaur Comic by Ryan North:
North’s message board rapidly filled up with ideas for “machine of death” stories. North soon teamed up with David Malki ! (of Wondermark) and Matthew Bennardo to make the book a reality. They solicited material, winnowed the submissions down, found other artists to illustrate several of the stories, and started to shop the manuscript around. That was when the problems started:
Stephen King isn’t in this book. Neither is Dave Eggers or Neil Gaiman or Nick Hornby. Nobody would buy this little book full of stories from nobody famous, we were told. We talked with six different agents who fell in love with this book; one even fell deeply in love and tried her hardest to sell it to anybody who would listen. One editor at a publishing house told us “Let me be blunt: I love this premise; I love this project; I want to read this book [...] the sample stories included in the proposal are really very strong, and if they’re all that good, then this is a genre anthology of high literary quality.”
But it was 2008, 2009. “The economy,” we were told. “And it’s an anthology.”
…We didn’t want to sell ebook rights; we wanted to release the ebook for free as a PDF. We didn’t want to sell audio rights; we wanted to record the audiobook ourselves, and release it for free as a podcast. Movie rights remain with the authors — if you love one of the stories in this book and want to make a blockbuster film from it, contact the author and give them the money. We’re not in the middle.
And we live on the internet enough that we knew we could sell this book.
So October 26th was declared MOD-Day, and a plan was formed: to get the book into Amazon’s #1 bestseller spot for just one day, and prove that a bunch of indie misfits could make a successful book.
This plan worked so spectacularly that as of this writing, mid-day on October 27th, the book is still in Amazon’s #1 bestseller spot, along with being #1 in science fiction anthologies and #2 in literature and fiction (#1 is John Grisham’s The Confession). Malki ! calls this “so far beyond amazing that I don’t have words for it. It is incredimazing. It is trementacular. It is absocrazifreakiperfluously staggerblasticating.”
The three editors agree that this has been quite an education in publishing, both traditional and self-. In an interview on Tor.com, Malki ! says:
In webcomics, and internet stuff in general, there’s a DIY, entrepreneurial mindset that serves some people very well but also tends to engender a bitterness towards “the establishment.” If I’ve personally learned anything from this process, it’s that there are different channels for different things in different ways, and those channels can change and evolve with the culture and the economy and technology and everything. There’s no blanket solution to the question of how best to get creative material in front of an audience: it depends on the nature of the work, and the audience, and the creator, and the timing and a million other things. These decisions have to be made case-by-case.
We expect to see this printed out and hung on the walls of numerous publishing professionals in short order, and look forward to seeing whether other webcomic artists are encouraged to follow in North, Bennardo, and Malki !’s footsteps.